Episode 106: DANCING WITH DESIRE: RECOVERING BODY WISDOM with Kimerer LaMothe
DANCING WITH DESIRE: RECOVERING BODY WISDOM with Kimerer LaMothe. An award-winning author, philosopher, and dancer, Kimerer is co-founder of Vital Arts, a center for arts and ideas, located on a farm in upstate New York where she now lives with her partner and their five children. Her latest book is, "What a Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire."
In this episode, Kimerer LaMothe shares her journey from Harvard Professor to life as a mother of 5, living on a farm, and author of a book on the wisdom of desire. Discover the key impulses of desire toward vitality, direction, belonging & spirit. Learn how to transform the yuck of life into a potential for pleasure yet to unfold. Deepen into the giving & receiving of life enabling touch.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome to Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra: Bringing You The Soul of Sex. I’m your host, Francesca Gentille, and with me today is Kimerer LaMothe. Kimerer is an award winning author, philosopher, dancer, co-founder of Vital Arts, a center for arts and ideas. She lives in Upstate New York with her husband and five children. She has a doctorate in the study of religion from Harvard, studied 8 years at Brown and at Harvard University, teaching, writing, dancing. Her latest book is What A Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire. And I am so happy to have you hear today, Kimerer. Welcome
Kimerer LaMothe: Thank you, Francesca. It’s great to be here.
Francesca Gentille: One of the things that I think our listening audience is beginning to know is that I actually have a really beautiful opportunity about a half an hour before the show to call our guests and, you know, get to know them that more personal way so that when we’re here on the show with you it’s not two strangers talking for the first time, it’s two people that have really started to tune in to one another’s spirits and, you know, to our listening audience, as we know, that’s where the magic happens, when we start to tune in. And with Kimerer and I, we were getting our mornings together with our children – saying goodbye to our children – and started to weave together that there’s something real important about the body wisdom, the journey of life, when we – you know, and the teachings that we even learn from those little ones, from those young ones. So we’re just going to start there for a moment, we’re going to go all over the map in our half an hour. But tell me a little bit about your family and what you’ve learned from, a little bit from the kids.
Kimerer LaMothe: We’ve learned so much from our children, and different things from different ones of them. But I think one of the big things for us is that having the children has caused us to rethink about so many of the images that we get about what family is and what life is and how love works and how it’s all important. And so we find ourselves sort of living these synergies. Let me give you a really good example, and one of them is when Jeff and I, my partner, got together in the early 90’s we had this dream and this dream was that at some point in our lives we were going to buy some land and move out to the country and create a place where we could do our art and our work. He’s a musician and I’m a dance and a writer, and we wanted a place where we could have a sanctuary for our artistic work and close to relationship to the natural world. And then as we were sort of working towards this dream, we had two children at that point or soon after – Jordan, that’s our oldest who’s now 14 and Jessica who’s 12. And we would talk to them about this dream and they knew about it, and they didn’t kind of share in the dream the same way we were, but they had their own visions of what they want. Jessica in particular wanted to have a horse. She was dying to have a horse, and we kept saying to her, “Jessica when we move out to the country you’re going to be able to get your horse.” Well by the time she was 7 years old she decided she really wanted to do something about this, so she sat down at the computer and started Googling for real estate because she wanted to find us a farm. And she, one day – she usually found, you know, five hundred million dollar properties in Colorado – but there was this one day in April of 2005 where she sat down at the computer, and she said “Mom come look at this.” And there on the computer was a farm. She had looked for Vermont farms, ‘cause we had talked about going to Vermont, and she found Vermont Boarder Farm, which was here in Upstate New York. And within three or four months we completely left our home in Arlington, right in the Boston suburbs, and moved to this place because Jessica had enabled it. And we think about that to ourselves in this just strange way. She had her dream, we had our dream. They weren’t the same dream, but in helping her realize – let me say it differently. In order, we had to realize our dreams for her sake and in helping her realize our dreams we would realize our own. We found…
Francesca Gentille: There’s something so magical about that. There’s, I feel that, you know, I have a child myself, that when we have these children – and maybe we do that with an adult as well, maybe we do that with ourselves – we really listen to their dreams…
Kimerer LaMothe: Yes.
Francesca Gentille: And we start to say “What’s really important?”, you know, that discernment of life. And some of us get lost in that, you know, where we, you know, money becomes more important or, you know, having more of this or that. But some of us listen to that deep soul of kind of the true dream. Can you say more about that?
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah, I’d love to. ‘Cause I feel it works in a couple of ways. In What A Body Knows, a book that you mentioned, I talk about our desire for spirit. And our desire for spirit is what I think of is our desire for sense of vitality, a sense of direction and a sense of belonging. So it’s, you know, that energy that gets you up in the morning and the sense of where it is you’re going and a sense of why it is important, so that vitality, direction and belonging. And I feel that when we talk about that desire for spirit, when it comes to having children, certain kinds of strange logic start coming out. We think about the desire for spirit – first of all, it’s kind of an individual quest. And then when we think about having children we think about that as somehow compromising or requiring us to sacrifice our own desire for their sake so they can realize their dreams and desires. And I have found that actually that logic is faulty, that it’s not a sacrifice and that it’s not a compromise and that if we try to do that and live our lives through our children we end up creating unhealthy dynamics and that it actually works in a reverse way or it can work in a reverse way, that it becomes even more important for the parents to be unfolding their own dreams and listening to their own desire for spirit so that they can model for the children a life that they would want their child to live, one that’s engaged in creating the kind of relationship that we need to support us in becoming who we are. And if we’ve had children and if we care about children and those children are important to us, then part of what that process will involve is creating our relationships with them. Mutually enabling a relationship that allows them to survive, as well as our self.
Francesca Gentille: And that would be the same for a relationship with a beloved as well. That it’s not about “Oh how can I sacrifice and give of myself for you.”
Kimerer LaMothe: Right.
Francesca Gentille: But something that synergizes in some way, it becomes that cauldron of that alchemy, of something greater. And I want to talk more about some of that greater, especially for those of us who are listening. You know, some of us have kids, some of us don’t. But all of us really have gone through some churning in life. And I know – I know and they don’t know yet – that there were some other churning that led to that choosing to go to a farm Upstate New York and to actually fulfill your dreams. So when we come back from a break and a word from our sponsors we’ll be talking about those ups and downs of life, those challenges and opportunities that can send us in an amazing direction with a little bit of support, and we’ll look at what some of those steps are to harvest the most out of our tragedies and make them triumphs, when we come back from a break and a word from our sponsors.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome back to Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra. We’re talking with Kimerer LaMothe, author of What A Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire. And I think we’re also about to talk about finding wisdom in some of those life challenges and life tragedies…
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: and that there’s a churning that, you know, almost the desire arises out of sometimes, kind of an inner churning. So how do we turn some of those tragedies into triumphs? What is the pathway to that and how does that relate to the kids and the house and Upstate New York?
Kimerer LaMothe: Well when I think about desire I think about it as an impulse that is guiding us or impelling us towards something that’s going to give us the satisfaction that we want. And when we think about desire that way it frees us up a little bit from thinking about the particular objects of the desire, to think about it as this movement in us, this life energy in us, that’s wanting us to have what we need to thrive. And I think often times in our lives our desires, well we don’t learn how to appreciate them. We don’t really learn how to listen to them, we don’t learn how to open up a safe for them. And so as these desires sort of come through us we experience them as discomfort. They can, you know, in our relationships with our partners we can experience it as frustration or irritation or, you know, a lack of desire in our own bodily selves. We can feel that frustration as a frustration with, you know, how fat we are, that we’re not fit and we turn against our bodies. And in our lives we can experience that sort frustration, that block of our desire as depression or as a despair and an uncertainty about who we are and where we’re going. And what I sort of, what I want, am doing in my work and what I want to talk about in my book, about finding wisdom in desire is what is involved in sort of opening up a space inside of ourselves where it is safe to listen to our desires, to get in touch with them, and to figure out what are the movements we can make that aren’t going to recreate the kind of pain that we feel? So often in our culture I think when we feel discomfort of any kind, whether it’s frustration or irritation or depression or despair, we just want it to go away. Now of course we want it to go away, it feels horrible. But we’re so trained to think of ourselves as minds living in these bodies, over and against these bodies, that we’ll tend to look outside of ourselves and look for this quick fix, something we’ll enable to just like numb the pain or something to distract ourselves, to divert our attention so we don’t have to deal with it. But in those cases we just end up perpetuating the problem and making it worse. So I trace particular kinds of examples in this, in the book and in my work, but part of what I want to say is invite people to just sort of listen to our desires. And it can be scary because we’re afraid that our desires are going to impel us, that our desires are going to move us in a direction that’s not good for us and tell us to do something that’s harmful, that’s going to betray us. But if we actually listen to them and allow ourselves to do so, we can discern some wisdom in them.
Francesca Gentille: Well lets go back just a smidge to weave our listening audience back in to one of those moments where things were very uncomfortable…
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: And if you can give us that example of how you ended up weaving this in, so we get a picture of that for us. So there you were and you were in Harvard, you were a teacher, everything was going really beautifully, when suddenly – and life is what happens when you’re making plans – when suddenly…
Kimerer LaMothe: Right, suddenly the door shut to my continuing there. And it shut in a way that was particularly painful for me because it didn’t, there was an expectation that it wasn’t going to shut and it was going to develop in kinds of ways that I had grown attached to. So when all of a sudden that door closed it was very difficult for me to try to figure out why it had closed and what was going, what was going to happen next, and it involved personal relationships and the betrayals of people who I thought were my supporters and a real upswell of support that didn’t end up being able to go anywhere, and it was a mess. And it was really devastating for me, and yet at the same time as it was happening I just felt this sort of shaking away, of certain kinds of voices and images that I had picked up and gathered during my time there about what was important for me. And I started to listen a little bit deeper and realize that actually there was this desire, my own desire for spirit was calling me to move in a different direction. And as I started to listen to it I realized that it made incredible sense based on the very work that I was doing as a scholar in the academy. That I had been teaching religion and teaching philosophy in the modern period, looking at our mind over body attitudes, trying to figure out why dance is such a marginal, is not taken seriously in means of religious expression or experience. I was working on this mind/body problem, and when this all happened I was able to sort of see, wow, wait a minute. This is creating, this seems like a block. This seems like an obstacle for what I most want, which is working on these issues and really making progress on them. But do you know what, this is actually the path, because this is requiring me to actually do what I most want to do, which is live a life that will enable me to think differently about these things, live a life which will enable me to weave together my love of dance and my relationship to my children and my thinking and reading and writing about religion.
Francesca Gentille: You know, so here you were, going on, you know, what, everybody would applaud you for being a professor at Harvard and it all looks so good and you’re being so scholarly in our world, you know, a person that appreciates that.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: And suddenly there’s a betrayal, and how many of us, you know, of course we’ve had a betrayal, a death of a dream. And there’s even a physical component that some of us go through; like when my mom died nobody talked to me about how physically painful grieving would be.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: And then, and then what do we do? We’re in the midst of this discomfort, and you mentioned earlier that your back went out…
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: at the same time.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: So there we are, we don’t want it to… “Ugh, please can this go away. Please, you know…
Kimerer LaMothe: Right.
Francesca Gentille: Lord, take this cup from me.”
Kimerer LaMothe: Exactly.
Francesca Gentille: And then what do we do? I mean do we go grab a bottle of booze? Do we, you know, do we go to, you know, the psychotherapist and get some, you know, antidepressants? I mean what do we do that really allows us to make that turn to say these things that look so separate, you know, my business or my life or my relationship or my thought of who I am or my body falling apart is actually leading me somewhere where I need to go? So what are some practices that can support us to turn that corner? What did you do?
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah. Well one of the things I did is I used what I call a cycle of breaths, and it’s just, it’s something I invented, although I mean I invented it out of a lot of things that I’ve been doing – I’ve been practicing Yoga for years and dance for years and done a lot of different kinds of workshops. But, and I think the cycle of breaths is one example of a kind of thing that you can do. But the first thing to do is like breathe, right, and allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. And I think it sounds really easy but it’s really hard. It takes time, it takes space and it takes just a willingness to feel the discomfort, right. And so there’s one part that’s just allowing yourself to breathe, allowing yourself to breathe down, to feel the earth supporting you, and then to open up a space inside of yourself. And, you know, the second thing for me that’s really important is being able to realize that those, you know, the pain that you feel, the yuck feelings that you feel, the, those are all information. They’re really important information for you. It’s telling you things you need to know about how to live a life that’s going to be the life you want to live. I sometimes think about them as potential for pleasure that has yet to unfold. Those pains inside of us, that suffering, that feeling of crampness, those feelings of depression, those are all potentials for pleasure that are yearning to unfold in us. And what we need to do in order to align with that movement – like, it wants to happen. It’s not like we have to like change our lives by imposing this right idea or right practice or right belief upon ourselves. It’s to allow ourselves to unfold, you know, like a plant, like a rose needs to unfold. You have to allow it to happen by being willing to move with it and being willing to follow those impulses to move that are arising with you and learn from them about how to make the movements that are going to bring you the kind of deep satisfaction that you want.
Francesca Gentille: You know, I really – this sounds very, very rich and I love this idea of this, you know, my body even relaxes just thinking about it, that rather than being tight and coiled something could unfold, it could unfurl.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: I want to talk more about what that looks like, how that feels in our body, and also how to use discernment - cause I can just imagine going off several deep ends, even now – when we come back from a break and a word from our sponsors. And we’ll be right back.
Kimerer LaMothe: Okay.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome back to Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra. We’re talking with Kimerer LaMothe, award winning author, philosopher and dancer. And we’re talking about that unfolding, unfurling, something in us moves – it starts out uncomfortable and then maybe it can even feel like desire, like ooh, I’m really attracted to, you know, for me it might be like the guy at the office or something like that.
Kimerer LaMothe: Right.
Francesca Gentille: But am I really attracted to the guy at the office, is it just that I’m unsatisfied with something at home? You know, maybe that is it or is it that maybe I used to paint and I don’t paint anymore? Could you help us a little bit in that discernment around what’s arising?
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah. Well let’s talk about the desire for sex in that context, because that’s what you’re waiting…
Francesca Gentille: Let’s talk about it.
Kimerer LaMothe: And it’s, I mean it’s a huge one because we get so many messages in our culture about what it is that’s going to satisfy our desire for sex. And because we’re so trained to think of ourselves as minds and bodies – like I mean we’re educated, you know, from day one in kindergarten, sit still and use your mind, that you know, we identify with our minds – and so we think that, and how it works out in our desire for sex is that we think that what we want for, what it is that’s going to satisfy our sex, desire for sex is just the physical actions. We think of sex as a physical thing. And if there’s love there and the love and the sex are together, then that’s really great and that’s even better. But the sex itself can just happen. And so if we feel, so we’re separated from our desire for sex. And so the one, one of the things that I wanted to do, it’s sort of in my book, is invite us to shift our experience so that we realize that our desire for sex is actually – or I sort of flip it to think about it as a desire for giving and receiving a life enabling touch. Think about it this way: what is it that’s really going to give you satisfaction in sex? Is it going to be having a one night stand with somebody you don’t really know? Or even having, you know, sex a few times with an acquaintance? That is going to be a physical pleasure and it’s going to happen and it’s going to be over. But even if you want to say what you really want is a physical pleasure, what, you as a human being, what are going to be the conditions that are going enable you to have that physical pleasure on an ongoing basis as a reality of your life. And that leads you to the conclusion that well actually what your desire for sex is guiding you to do is to create a relationship within which your ongoing satisfaction is a reality. And so what is involved in creating that relationship? Well it’s not just a physical component. We are bodies, yes; but we’re also, our sensory selves are so rich, we’re emotional and we’re intellectual and we’re spiritual. And in so far as we want to open to one another in ways that will give us the pleasure we seek, we need to connect with people on all of those levels. And the more we connect on the more levels, the more and more pleasure we actually find.
Francesca Gentille: So what I think I hear you saying is that sense of here I am attracted to the guy at the office, he’s so cute and he has a nice but or whatever…
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: And it may be true that I’m attracted to him, but it may be something that’s awakening in me that says what about being connected to more of life, what about, you know, what about dance, what about…. I know people who have gone through something like this where they’ve, you know, studied massage or they’ve deepened more into various kinds of dance and their whole world has gotten broader in their engagement, so to speak, their sensual, their sensate engagement…
Kimerer LaMothe: That’s right. That’s right.
Francesca Gentille: rather than focusing it on, you know, the next person that’s going to be a fix.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah, I think that’s a great way of thinking about it, because I mean when we sort of cut ourselves off from our desires anyway it’s still that sort of way of thinking about our bodies as just these material objects that we live in that we sort of carry around and have them do our bidding from time to time. And once, and our bodies will protest against that, right, they will manifest in certain times as eruptions of desire or as eruptions in terms of feelings or emotions or illness even. And I do think that, again, you know, as you’re saying, it’s our bodily selves communicating with us, trying to break through kind of the social conditioning that we get to actually align us with the kind of forces of life and creativity and well being that are coursing through us. And often times we haven’t, if we are involved in significant relationship, in a partner relationship, often times we settle into patterns of interacting with that partner that don’t open us up to our full selves. And we do it for all kinds of reason. Often times we do it for the relationship; we think, “Oh well, in order not to rock the boat I’m not going to bring up this irritation that I have” or “I’m not going to talk about this frustration” or “I’m not going to mention that I feel this because I don’t think my partner will like it”, and if we close off these little bits and pieces of ourselves we silence them, and then our passion can’t flow through those bits and pieces of ourselves, and so we start feeling less in relationship to our partners and it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy, “Oh well, desire just dies over time, passion fades, we become good friends.” But actually, and then we start, our desire starts trying to find other objects, right, outside of the relationship. So I do feel often times when we feel that desire to sort of pointing at the outside of the relationship that often times it’s actually calling us to go, to go deeper and to realize that our, that there are parts of ourselves that we’re not allowing to live in that relationship and in ourselves. And all kinds…
Francesca Gentille: And…
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: I love that, what you’re saying, that we’re not allowing parts of ourselves to live. And, you know, if we’re not allowing our authentic nature in some way to at least be spoken into the world and considered, then who’s life are we leading? You know, are we actually alive in this world? And, you know, I say this for myself with kind of a sensitivity and a tenderness - you know, a couple years after my mom’s death and in a new relationship as we’re speaking – you know, that there are some challenging conversations that might need to be had. But I think to myself if I don’t, if I have them, I could lose the relationship.
Kimerer LaMothe: Right, exactly.
Francesca Gentille: But if I don’t have them, I could lose me in this world, living, alive as a passionate spirit in this world.
Kimerer LaMothe: That’s right.
Francesca Gentille: So, you know, what’s at stake is literally the authentic expression of a soul in the planet, which I think is important.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: And, you know, if I’m not living mine and you’re not living yours – I mean, lets say we’re in a relationship together – then what about our children and what about the people that we know. Everything starts to constrict again.
Kimerer LaMothe: That’s right. That’s right. And it’s so hard to stay open at that moment. I have this sort of little saying also in What A Body Knows where I say, you know, as for what you need and you have more to give. I mean the reality of relationships is so padoxical and we don’t think of it ‘cause we always think of ourselves as individuals, but if we do – and so we will hold back from asking for what we need or for what we want because we think we’re doing it for our partner or because we’re afraid or we’re afraid that our partner will reject us or it can be any of those. But when we do that we actually – and as we’re closing off those place of ourselves – we have less to give. And this is this paradox is that when we’re actually open with our sensory selves and sharing what it is we need and want, we have more to give. Our love flows and our love grows, and as we share those things we get better and better at sharing and better and better at receiving, and we are able to move with our partners in ways that we really affirm our desire to be with our partner and our partners desire to be with us as what can be more real than our fears, as what can create the world in which we want to live together.
Francesca Gentille: Mm, that is so beautiful. May we deepen and support and encourage and sometimes challenge one another to be in that deep authentic nature.
Kimerer LaMothe: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: And may, you know, may those radiant souls, that I believe were meant to be, be here on our planet. Thank you so much Kimerer for just bringing your wisdom, your life, your knowledge. I got a change to talk to her before we were on this call together with you all, and I recommend that you buy her book and get to know her. And how would people reach you? How would they find you? What is your contact information?
Kimerer LaMothe: Aw, thank you Francesca so much. The book is called What A Body Knows, and if you go to www.whatabodyknows.com, you can find all the information, that’ll take you right into our website. You can see pictures of the farm and pictures of the kids and everything that we’re doing here. And you can also go to Amazon and search for it and you can find it there. Your local bookstores should have it too.
Francesca Gentille: Thank you so much Kimerer. And I just want to thank all of you, our listening audience, for being on this journey with us because this is no accident that we’re all here in this wonderful show together. And if you want to find out more about Kimerer, get transcripts from the show, see her face, or find out more about me, my services, see my lovely face, you can do that at www.personallifemedia.com, Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra: Bringing You The Soul of Sex.